NEW YORK -- Ryne Sandberg contemplates countless lineups in the office, car or anywhere else he has a moment to think. He considers it a fun part of the job.
"I play out the game a little in my mind and picture the lineup going through the game," he said this week at Citi Field.
Sandberg has used 14 lineups in 14 games as Phillies interim manager, which he said is not ideal, but considering the circumstances is understandable. The Phillies are not going to make the postseason. They instead are trying to look at as many different players as possible entering the offseason. His 14th lineup produced seven hits Thursday afternoon in an 11-3 loss to the Mets, snapping a streak of three consecutive series victories as the Phillies split the four-game set.
Only two of the hitters in Thursday's lineup -- second baseman Chase Utley and left fielder Domonic Brown -- are assured spots in next season's everyday lineup. Darin Ruf could work himself into the lineup with a strong final month to the season. Carlos Ruiz could be re-signed, if he finishes strong. Kevin Frandsen and John Mayberry Jr. are eligible for salary arbitration. If they return, they will be on the bench. Michael Young and John McDonald are free agents.
"There's guys to build around," Sandberg said. "Chase Utley, J-Roll. With a healthy [Ryan] Howard back. That's big. Ruiz ... there some ifs. If you have [Cody] Asche or Ruf in the mix, there definitely are some pieces there. There are some young guys getting some experience now that are doing some good things. It's definitely something to build on. Having Ryno in the four spot and producing would be a big bat that's been missed."
But there is no question the organization will need to find a way to improve its offense before next season.
The Phillies entered Thursday averaging just 3.79 runs per game, which was tied with the Giants for the second-worst run production in the National League. Their .247 batting average ranked 11th, their .304 on-base percentage ranked 13th and their .389 slugging percentage ranked 11th. They have been shut out 13 times this season.
Only the Marlins, who are on pace to have the third-worst offense in baseball in the past 40 years, averaging 3.20 runs per game, have been shut out more, with 15.
"I definitely think so," said Brown, asked if this team can improve offensively next season. "Especially with guys coming back healthy, Ryan, Ben [Revere]. I think we're going to look good again on paper. We've just got to keep growing as a team. I think that's really the big thing. I'm glad they didn't separate us at the break [July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline]. I think guys are getting comfortable here, and that's exactly what we need."
The Phillies struggled against Mets right-hander Carlos Torres, who has pitched mostly out of the bullpen this season and replaced injured right-hander Matt Harvey.
Ruf helped the Phillies score their first run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly. Roger Bernadina hit a two-run homer in the eighth.
Phillies rookie right-hander Ethan Martin continued to have problems the second time through the lineup.
He retired seven of the first nine batters he faced. He allowed one hit and one walk the first time through the lineup, striking five consecutive batters at one point. But the Mets started to get a better idea about him, going 3-for-8 with one double, one home run and two walks the rest of the way.
Martin allowed four hits, three runs, three walks and struck out a career-high nine in four innings.
Opponents have hit .208 (10-for-48) with one double, one home run, five walks and 21 strikeouts the first time they see Martin in a start. They have hit .333 (19-for-57) with four doubles, four home runs, 11 walks and 11 strikeouts after that.
"I felt pretty decent almost every start," Martin said. "Even [pitching coach Rich] Dubee said something. He said around that 60-pitch mark, I kind of have a little struggle in there. I've got to get through that. Hopefully I can get to that point this year."
But even if Martin and the bullpen kept the game close, the offense did not provide much punch.
That has been the case all season.
"Going through the struggles is what makes you a man in this league," Brown said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.